#CBR6 Review #9 – Words of Radiance
Profile: Epic Fantasy
After Action Report:
After a seemingly interminable four years of waiting for Brandon Sanderson to wash his hands of the Wheel of Time, it is finally time to return to the series that got me hooked on Sanderson in the first place, The Stormlight Archive. The Way of Kings was a great novel that suffered most from being little more than a prologue to the rest of the series. But now the real story can begin.
Words of Radiance returns us to the world of Roshar, picking up almost exactly where The Way of Kings left off. The four main protagonists have been carried over, though Shallan has a much larger role in this book, and Szeth has fewer chapters. The events of Way of Kings have brought all the major players to the Shattered Plains where the Alethi campaign against the Parshendi is drawing to a close. At the same time, signs and portents of a great calamity begin to appear around Dalinar and Kaladin. Time is running out, the Alethi are on the brink of a civil war and the Assassin in White has returned to kill the last great leader in the east.
Words builds on the strengths of its predecessor and feels much more focused. While there are still many Sanderson-y (Sandersonian?) mysteries to explore and wonder about, the bulk of the infodumps have been left behind in favor of stronger story flow and a more proactive tone. There was a tendency in the first book for the for PoV characters to just react to situations, rather than drive their own stories forward, but that has been replaced with a much stronger balance of proactive and reactive moments.
Shallan continues to be my favorite character of the four, and Words of Radiance really is her book. Her chapters have a nice blend of intrigue, action and geeky obsession with practically everything. She’s a great PoV character because, in many ways she is the ideal reader of The Stormlight Archive: obsessed with the secret histories of the world and the details of how everything works. Shallan also gets the same flashback treatment as Kaladin did in the first book, but even her flashback chapters are better. They feel more necessary because Shallan can’t even admit her history to herself, and they are significantly shorter and neater than Kaladin’s lengthy meanderings.
Like Vin in the first two Mistborn novels, Shallan exemplifies a strong female protagonist. She is willful and self-determined, but also feminine and not afraid of using the stereotypical fantasy woman’s skillset to get things done. Watching her gain confidence in herself and her abilities over the course of the book is a true pleasure.
I really am having a hard time coming up with strong criticisms to level against Words of Radiance. All the setup Sanderson did in The Way of Kings seems to be paying off in spades. With the pacing issues fixed, Words seems to fly by. I actually found myself wishing the book were longer, even though it weighs in at nearly 1100 pages. I think the key to that feeling is the multi-leveled mystery Sanderson has built the series around. There always seem to be more questions that need answering, even as we uncover more about the magic and history of Roshar. That desire to discover latches on to you and drags you forward through the plot. I have no complaints about this, only I wish it didn’t make me stay up reading till 3 in the morning quite so often.
So it basically comes down to a complete and unapologetic recommendation of Words of Radiance. While the series may take some breaking into, Sanderson seems to have hit his stride with regard to The Stormlight Archive. So read it. It’s good.